The announcement of William Ruto as the President-elect on September 5 last year brought about a significant change in Kenya’s political landscape. The election contest quickly shifted towards a struggle for control over the August House (Parliament).
In the days leading up to the President’s inauguration, Kenyans witnessed a notable shift of politicians flocking to the then Deputy President’s office. Initially aligned with the Azimio coalition, these politicians declared their decision to collaborate with the current government.
The battle then shifted towards securing key positions in Parliament, particularly the Speaker’s roles in both the National Assembly and the Senate. A fierce competition ensued, but Kenya Kwanza, bolstered by the defections, emerged victorious in both chambers, securing the Speaker’s seats.
According to Majority Whip Sylvanus Osoro, the numbers have significantly changed a year later, and there are more undisclosed sympathizers of Kenya Kwanza who have yet to formally reveal their allegiance.
Osoro stated, “We now have 215 members, and I am confident that I can easily gather support, especially from the Kenya Kwanza camp.”
An examination of the operations in both Houses indicates that the dominant influence lies with the ruling party. The confirmation of President Ruto’s Cabinet nominees proceeded smoothly, except for a surprising turn of events when members from both coalitions rallied behind a motion to save Tourism CS Peninah Malonza from dismissal.
Kenya Kwanza’s parliamentary group meetings, held at State House in Nairobi, often lead members to support the government’s legislative agenda on the House floor. One such instance was the contentious Finance Act 2023, where members were extensively briefed at State House, particularly on the controversial 1.5 percent Housing Levy, which had faced opposition from many Kenyans.
The State House’s influence was evident in the voting turnout, as members worked late into the night to ensure the success of the President’s priority, the affordable housing scheme.
Nevertheless, Osoro defended the independence of the House, stating, “We have a President who listens; when there is an issue we feel is not right, he understands.”
However, as the saying goes, politics can create unusual alliances. The divide between the opposition and the government widened, leading to chaotic and violent anti-government protests.
On April 2, President Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga agreed to put an end to grandstanding and adopt a bipartisan approach to address raised issues. This led to the formation of a 14-member bipartisan team consisting entirely of parliamentarians. Unfortunately, after several meetings, the bipartisan committee failed to reach an agreement on the agenda, resulting in its dissolution and a return to weekly mass protests by opposition supporters.
Subsequently, with the mediation of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Ruto and his political rival Odinga engaged in talks that led to the formation of a 10-member National Dialogue Committee. This committee is currently addressing five critical issues facing the country.
Despite simmering conflicts over the discussion agenda, the report and accompanying proposed bills are expected to be presented in Parliament for consideration. This is anticipated to culminate in another intense battle as both coalitions seek to assert their authority.